The Paulist.org website has a nice article about the “Paulist Plunge” retreat for this year. The article does a gives a peek into the experience, but it doesn’t mention the amazing dinner that Fr. Larry cooked for the men participating in the retreat.
Evan reported that it was an amazing meal featuring grilled salmon and some sort of risotto and (to be honest) I sort of lost track after that as I was very hungry at the time and Evan’s description of the entrée briefly sidelined my ability to process new information.
Fr. Steven Bell, who also participated in the retreat, is a cohost on the Busted Halo podcast and a foodie as well. At various times on the podcast he’s reported on meals he cooked and I had the same mouth-watering-brain-derailing reaction. He has also been heard to say that Jesus was a foodie.
The whole idea of foodie priests might seem strange. A lot of people think of priests as severe ascetics who go out of their way to avoid worldly joys. These same people tend perceive Catholics as dour, pinch-faced individuals. I think they’re confusing us with Puritans.
One of the fundamental teachings of Catholicism (and, as a convert it took me a long time to understand this) is that the world is good. Fallen and corrupt, but good in its very creation. If God — who is all good and loving — created the world, how could it be otherwise?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts this truth in the very beginning.
339 Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection. For each one of the works of the “six days” it is said: “And God saw that it was good.” “By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth and excellence, its own order and laws.” Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment.
341 The beauty of the universe: The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man’s intellect and will.
In a similar vein, the Bishops of Mississippi and Alabama wrote a pastoral letter to their congregations in 1989 asserting:
For Catholics, Biblical teaching has always maintained that our world is good and has been entrusted to our care by God. We do not see it as something evil to escape, rather we embrace our world without embracing the sin within it.
In practical terms, this means that the we are not only free to enjoy the world — we are actively encouraged to engage with God’s creation. The world is ours to enjoy. Beauty, good food, and and all the delights of the senses reveal parts of God’s love for his creation to us. Our God is an awesome God and it’s okay to acknowledge that and embrace his creation.
And that includes good food.
The link between food and faith is particularly strong. Jesus practiced what is known as “open table fellowship” and is often shown dining with people from a variety of social classes. The Last Supper is one of the pivotal moments in the New Testament — so important that we reenact it at every Mass and given it special prominence during Holy Week at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The folks at CatholicFoodie.com know this. Their website and podcast explore the relationship of food and faith. Plus they have some great recipes.
So, strange as it might seem to some, the idea of a “foodie priest” makes perfect sense. Enjoying good food (but not to excess) is an act of embracing the gifts that God has given us.
Over the years, Evan has shown himself to be an outstanding cook. This past summer he and his roommate make a massive batch of incredible pork tamales. As an undergraduate, he regularly hosted dinners for his friends — calling home to ask advice on food pairings and preparation.
He comes by his talent naturally. His mother is an awesome cook who learned the craft by working in the kitchen at her parent’s restaurant. And I think he might get a bit of his talent from my side of the family too. And, given what I know about the Paulist community and its relationship to food, I think Evan is going to fit right in.